After snapping an eight-game losing skid with two road wins against the Arizona schools last week, the USC women’s basketball team continued its momentum from the end of the regular season into the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday, defeating the No. 10-seeded Oregon State Beavers 64-57.
USC (11-19, 7-11) was up 47-45 before scoring 15 of its last 17 points from the free-throw line. That would be the difference maker for the Women of Troy, as they got to the charity stripe a tournament-record 46 times, converting on 35 attempts for a solid 76 percent. The Beavers would only get to the line 12 times, making seven free throws.
“We wanted to be aggressive and take the ball to the basket,” USC head coach Michael Cooper said. “We knew that we had a little bit of a height advantage on them so we tried to get the ball inside and it worked to our benefit today.”
The Women of Troy, who are seeded seventh in the tournament after finishing 7-11 in Pac-12 conference play, will now go on to the quarterfinals on Friday to play the No. 2 seed. That team is Cal, the No. 5-ranked squad in the country. The Golden Bears were the Pac-12 co-champions with Stanford.
The Women of Troy dropped both meetings to the Golden Bears in regular season play. In Berkeley, USC played a close game and took the Golden Bears to overtime before falling 71-63. Down at the Galen Center, the setting was different, but the game yielded the same results, as USC lost 72-64.
“I think we match up very well with Cal and, every time we have played them, it has been a really tight game,” junior forward Cassie Harberts said.
Against Oregon State, the Women of Troy were led by sophomore guard Ariya Crook, who had 17 points off the bench. Harberts also had a big game, as she recorded yet another double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Right by her side was senior leader Christina Marinacci, who struggled from the field, where she made only two of 13 field goals, but ultimately finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, barely missing out on a double-double.
“We got stops, made shots on offense, made our free throws, and I feel that we really did a good job of doing that down stretch,” Harberts said.
The Beavers (10-21, 4-14) were led by sophomore guard Ali Gibson, who had 13 points, while senior guard Mollee Schwegler and junior guard Alyssa Martin dropped in 12 and 10 points, respectively. Though it came up short, Oregon State shot a blistering 44 percent from 3-point land. USC did not shoot as well, shooting 29 percent overall. The Women of Troy, however, outrebounded the Beavers 40-35 and forced 15 turnovers.
“We tried to cover up their strengths and make other players step up to score,” Cooper said.
USC led the Beavers 23-18 at the half, but Oregon State fought back in the second half thanks to a bevy of foul calls against the Women of Troy. USC was whistled for more fouls in the first three minutes of the second half than in the entire first half.
They dialed up some steals and big baskets in order to keep the lead, however, and held a 32-23 advantage with 15:00 remaining.
But Oregon State once again fought back, as it went on a 11-0 run to pull ahead at 34-32 with 13 minutes left. Harberts took over, though, going on to score nine straight USC points, and lifting her team to a 38-34 edge with 11 minutes to play.
It was a back-and-forth game from there until the Women of Troy took a commanding 54-45 lead — their largest of the game — after a basket by Miranacci. The Beavers got back to within four with 2:13 to go, but could not overcome USC’s stellar free throw shooting.
USC’s matchup against Cal is set for Friday at 12 p.m.